Americans Sloane Stephens and Madison Keys, both struggling with serious injuries just three months ago, advanced to their first Grand Slam final at the US Open on Thursday.
Stephens, who missed 11 months with a left foot injury before returning in July, outlasted seven-time Slam champion Venus Williams 6-1, 0-6, 7-5.
“I’m super happy to be in a Grand Slam final,” Stephens said. “To do it here, my home slam, is obviously more special. I think this is what every player dreams about.”
US 15th seed Keys, who had left wrist surgery for the second time in 10 months after a first-round French Open exit, routed US 20th seed CoCo Vandeweghe 6-1, 6-2 in 66 minutes to complete the first all-American US Open final since Serena Williams beat sister Venus in 2002.
“It still doesn’t feel real. I’m still shaking,” Keys said. “I played pretty well. There’s a lot of things in my head right now so I’m struggling to come up with words.
“I knew I had to rise to the occasion. I’m just happy to be in the final.”
The friends and Fed Cup teammates will meet Saturday at Arthur Ashe Stadium in the biggest match of either’s career for a top prize of $3.7 million (3.07 million euros).
“I’ve known her for a long time. She’s one of my closest friends on tour,” Stephens said. “I love her to death. And it’s not easy playing a friend.”
Stephens, who was wearing a walking boot in June and ranked 957th in July, has won 14 of her past 16 matches, with semi-final runs at Toronto and Cincinnati.
“I have no words to describe what I’m feeling, what it took to get here, the journey I’ve been on,” Stephens said.
“It’s incredible. I don’t know how I got here. Your guess is as good as mine. Just hard work. That’s it.”
Stephens beat Keys in the second round at Miami in 2015 in their only career meeting.
“Sloane is a new person right now,” Keys said. “She’s so excited to be out on the court again. I’m excited we get to play each other in the US Open final.”
Stephens needed a thrilling break at love in the penultimate game and closing hold of serve to deny two-time champion Williams her first US Open final in 15 years.
“I just worked my tail off and tried to run every ball down and here we are,” Stephens said. “It required a lot of fight and a lot of grit.”
Now 83rd, Stephens is the lowest-ranked Slam finalist since unranked Justine Henin at the 2010 Australian Open and the lowest at the US Open since unranked Kim Clijsters won the 2009 title.
Stephens, who beat Williams in the first round of the 2015 French Open in their only prior meeting, will jump into the world top 25 next week with the victory.
US ninth seed Williams could not overcome 51 unforced errors that doomed her bid to become the oldest women’s singles finalist in US Open history at age 37.
“It was definitely well competed,” Williams said. “In the end she won more points than I did and that’s what it added up to.
“Just made so many errors at the end there… I wasn’t playing well. Just wasn’t playing well.”
Williams will return to the top five in Monday’s world rankings for the first time since 2011, the year she was diagnosed with strength-sapping Sjogren’s Syndrome.
Stephens, 24, is 4-0 in WTA finals, having won titles in 2015 at Washington and last year in Auckland, Acapulco and Charleston.
The only cautionary note for Keys, 22, was a medical timeout to have her right leg taped three games from the end.
“I definitely started to feel it,” she said. “I felt if I went too far it might be something more.”
It was the first all-American US Open women’s semi-finals since 1981 and the first at any Slam since Wimbledon in 1985.
On Friday, the men return to Arthur Ashe Stadium with 15-time Slam champion Rafael Nadal, the world number one, seeking his fourth trip to the New York finals against 2009 US Open champion Juan Martin Del Potro, the 24th seed from Argentina.
South African Kevin Anderson and Spain’s Pablo Carreno Busta meet in the other semi-final.
Juan Martin Del Potro admits he will not be physically 100 percent fit to face world number one Rafael Nadal in Friday’s potentially blockbuster US Open semi-final.
The 28-year-old Argentine has been plagued by injuries since he won his only Grand Slam title in New York in 2009, beating Roger Federer in the final and Nadal in the semi-finals.
He gatecrashed the tournament again on Wednesday when he defeated Federer in a gripping quarter-final 7-5, 3-6, 7-6 (10/8), 6-4 to reach his fourth Grand Slam semi-final.
“Against Rafa, it will be a much harder match. I am not in good condition,” said Del Potro, who had needed five exhausting sets and saved two match points to beat Dominic Thiem in the fourth round.
“But it’s a semi-final so anything can happen. I have to be ready to face Rafa in my favorite tournament.
“I will try to exploit the atmosphere and if I play my best I can be a danger to him.”
Del Potro’s 2009 US Open final five-set win ended Federer’s five-year reign as champion and his 40-match win streak.
He had also crushed Nadal in straight sets in the semi-finals, losing just six games. He was just 20 at his time and had the world at his feet.
However, he went on to undergo four wrist surgeries, missed 10 Grand Slams and, at one stage last year, his world ranking slumped to 1,045.
That left him even contemplating retirement before a run to the Olympic final in Rio — beating Nadal in the semi-finals — helped reinvigorate his passion for the sport.
Despite his doubts, he is used to playing exhausting semi-final epics – at Wimbledon in 2013, he lost to Novak Djokovic in 4hr 43min, the longest Slam semi-final ever played.
His Roland Garros semi-final defeat to Federer in 2009 was also a five-setter.
“Against Rafa, he is a lefty so he will come after my forehand,” added Del Potro.
Nadal will take an 8-5 record over Del Potro into the semi-final, where the winner will face either Kevin Anderson or Pablo Carreno Busta for the title.
“Juan Martin is a top player. When he’s playing well, it’s difficult to stop him. Probably the forehand is maybe the fastest on the tour,” said Nadal, who is chasing his second major of the year to add to his French Open.
Federer, who raced into the interview room after his defeat, praised Del Potro, saying, “Juan Martin fought like a lion.”
“I feel like the way I’m playing right now it’s not good enough to win this tournament. It’s better I’m out and somebody else gets a chance to win.”
— US Open Tennis (@usopen) September 7, 2017
Provided by AFP Sport
Rafael Nadal demolished Andrey Rublev on Wednesday to reach a sixth US Open semi-final, setting up a first-time New York showdown against Roger Federer if the Swiss legend can down Argentine giant Juan Martin del Potro.
World number one Nadal, the 2010 and 2013 champion, brushed aside Russian 19-year-old Rublev 6-1, 6-2, 6-2 in just 97 minutes.
Rublev, ranked 53 and playing in his first Slam quarter-final, was broken seven times and committed 43 unforced errors.
Nadal and Federer have come close to facing off on Arthur Ashe Stadium on five previous occasions when they were just one match away, only for one of the two to lose.
Back in 2008, legendary boxing promoter Don King, never short of hyperbole, even dubbed the potential clash as “Grapple in the Apple.”
“It would be more special if Roger and I met in the final this year, so we will have to try and come back and make it happen,” said 31-year-old Nadal, who has reached his 26th Grand Slam semi-final.
The reigning French Open champion and 15-time major winner added that he might not watch all of the Federer-Del Potro match as it clashes with his dinner time.
“We are from Spain and we always eat very late but of course I will be paying attention to it,” Nadal said. “They are two great players and will be a good show.”
If Nadal and Federer, the Australian Open and Wimbledon champion, do meet on Friday, it will also be a duel for the world number one spot.